Ideally, at some point after speaking with a prospect they will suggest a meeting, but it is more likely that you will take the initiative. Don’t rush, and don’t push!
You should take the attitude that the benefit will flow from yourself to the prospect, not from the prospect to you. You are offering to help the prospect; not asking for a favour. If he or she does not accept your help, don’t worry. You should be very low key. There will always be another time.
Remember, the degree of credibility you have is proportionate to the extent to which the prospect perceives any hard sell from you. If you have just met the prospect, he or she is not yet in a position to trust you because they have not had the time to develop confidence in you – so don’t sell in a social context.
Moving for an appointment too soon reduces your chances of success. Until the prospect is sold on you or your firm, he or she will probably say no. The confused mind always says no.
How do you know the right time to suggest an appointment? It is when you have buyer interest. The prospect could be ready to agree to an appointment at any time during your relationship. To know when that moment has come, watch for appointment signals. A signal will not often be as obvious as your prospect saying, ‘Could you help me? I’d really like to talk to you.’ The signal may be subtle or even disguised.
Up to now, the flow of information has been principally from the prospect to you. You have listened, probed, and learned about the prospect’s business. At the same time, the prospect has also been learning about you, although you have been fairly low key up to this point.
The appointment signal indicates that the prospect wants to reverse that flow. He or she wants more information to flow from you to him or her. More specifically, you now have the prospect recognising a possible need, or developing a mild curiosity about the possibility of there being some value to him or her.
Once you have made an appointment, it is wise to bring the conversation tactfully to a close to avoid the interview starting there and then. It is unwise to delve too deeply into the prospect’s situation at the first meeting for the following reasons:
- the atmosphere is frequently not conducive to serious business discussion
- the prospect may not feel that the relationship is sufficiently ‘seasoned’
- you give the prospect the chance to change his or her mind and cancel the appointment
Once you have made the appointment it is usually best to end the conversation and move away from the prospect. Continued conversation could give them an opportunity to change their mind. If you cannot disengage tactfully, then at least change the subject to one that is unrelated to business. Where possible, meet in the prospect’s office. There are several reasons why this is preferable:
- you will probably be discussing confidential information, and you cannot do this in public
- the prospect will be more comfortable
- you can control the length of the meeting
- information to which the prospect may need to refer will be available
- you may gain access to the accounting records if the sale is successful
- you can pick up clues about the family from items on display
- you can get a feeling for the business
- you can meet those who influence his or her decisions